Welcome to the Web, Said the User to the Fly . . .
Establishing Cal State L.A. as the center for virtual applications within the California State University system, the Chancellor's Office last year awarded Robert Desharnais (Biology and Microbiology) and Gary Novak (Geological Sciences) a $23,000 grant from its Academic Opportunity Fund to develop a World Wide Web site featuring software designed by the two professors and Roland Carpenter (Emeritus - Physics and Astronomy). Already on the Web is Virtual FlyLab, a version of a software program Desharnais developed in 1992 as part of CSLA's "Electronic Desktop Project" under a National Science Foundation grant. The campus provided matching funds.
FlyLab, in which students can mate fruit flies with visible mutations in their own on-screen experiments, is used as a genetics teaching tool in CSLA biology courses and is also in great demand by educators throughout the country, now that it's available on the Web.
The uniqueness of the new Virtual FlyLab, say its authors, is that it allows users to do more than just retrieve information from the Web. Science students conduct experiments, test and reject hypotheses, and have the advantage of powerful technology in their own school labs, on any Web-connected computer. (Until recently, FlyLab, Earthquake, KaryotypeLab - which lets students experiment with chromosomes - and other applications, including some in English composition and computer art and animation, were only available to people using computers running the NeXTSTEP operating system.)
Of course, Novak and Desharnais remind us that the programs really are spiffier on a computer running NeXTSTEP: "You can drag the fly wherever you want, you can magnify details of the fly, and the graphics are superb," Desharnais says of the original FlyLab, pointing out how some text is visible through the fly's translucent wings as he drags it across a computer screen in the CSLA's NeXT lab.
When Virtual FlyLab went on line, it was an instant success. "Someone immediately listed us as a 'Cool Site of the Day' for July 2," says Desharnais, who notes with awe that "we suddenly went from several hundred 'hits' daily to 50,000!" Now, according to Novak and Desharnais, the "hits" have stabilized at 5,000-8,000 a day, with people already lining up for Novak's Earthquake program, which soon will be Web-available as a virtual application.
If you're on the Web, you can access Virtual FlyLab from your computer: type http://vflylab/ for on-campus Web users, and http://vflylab.calstatela.edu/ for the rest of the world.